374. Telegram From the Embassy in Jordan to the Department of State1

6467. Subj: Hussein’s Options.

1. There is no question in my mind that Jordan will be represented at opening session of Geneva peace conference but we should keep in mind that King Hussein, more than any other Arab leader, is faced with [Page 1030]a terrible dilemma with regard to future fate of Palestinians and may have to reconsider his position during course of conf. It is easy for Boumedienne or other Arab leaders whose territories are far from Israel to claim that Jordan has no occupied territory. Such leaders have obviously no direct interest in a settlement and some of them would not be unhappy if the Palestinians were to take over Jordan. For King Hussein, however, the problem is far more complex.

2. For the East Bankers and for the Hashemite regime, none of the solutions to the Palestinian problem now envisaged is likely to be satisfactory in the long run. A union of East Bank, West Bank and Gaza would mean a state composed of some 2.5 million Palestinians (assuming refugees in Lebanon and Syria would be transferred to this new state) as against 500,000 East Bankers. While some Palestinians now in Jordan will continue to support the Hashemite regime, the vast majority of Palestinians are likely to be indifferent at best to the fate of King Hussein. The King, if he can maintain the support and loyalty of the Jordan Arab Army which is overwhelmingly composed of East Bankers, could, in the short run, keep control of such a state but it is difficult to imagine that he could do so over a long period of time.

3. A confederation of Palestine and Jordan under the Hashemites, perhaps more loosely constituted than the proposed United Arab Kingdom, might make it possible for the East Bankers to maintain their identity, especially if the West Bank and Gaza were demilitarized. Since Palestinians most likely would continue to constitute a majority on the East Bank, Hussein’s governing problems would remain difficult. However, the complex economic and familial ties linking the two banks would give such a confederation some chance for viability. The essential requirement would be for Hussein to give his Palestinian subjects true autonomy; a return to the heavy-handed governing methods used prior to June 1967 would be inconceivable. Post-Algiers realities do not favor this confederation solution. If Hussein were lucky enough to get it through default by the PLO and its proponents, prospects for Hashemite survival would be enhanced. This solution likewise would be optimal in terms of U.S. interests.

4. An independent Palestine would undoubtedly be an unstable nation dominated by radical elements and would be a thorn in the side of both Israel and Jordan. If this solution eventually prevails, East Bankers will probably insist on the expulsion of some 800,000 Palestinians now in Jordan or at least of all those who do not identify with the Hashemite regime. Where would these Palestinians go? The West Bank, not to mention Gaza, could not possibly absorb them. If they remained in Jordan, they would constitute an effective 5th column for the eventual takeover of Jordan by the Palestinians. For the majority of East Bankers, therefore, the only acceptable solution would be an independ[Page 1031]ent Palestine either absorbing most of Palestinian refugees or making permanent arrangement with other Arab states to absorb a fixed quota of Palestinian refugees.

5. Keeping in mind that Jordan is the only Arab country which has done, and continues to do, a great deal for Palestinian refugees, the above analysis illustrates the dilemma in which King Hussein now finds himself.2 Sadat is interested in getting back Sinai and then turning inward to tackle his domestic problems. Lebanon is interested only in getting rid of 250,000 Muslem Palestinian refugees, keeping Christian refugees in Lebanon in order to maintain religious balance. Syria wants Israel out of Golan Heights and also wants to get rid of its Palestinian refugees. We assume that these three confrontation states would be quite willing to achieve their objective at Jordan’s expense even if it meant the downfall of the Hashemite regime.

6. On the basis of this analysis, we arrive at two main conclusions:

A) Whichever way we turn, we end up with some 1 million Palestinians too many who will have to be absorbed. While the Arabian Peninsula continues to offer some opportunities for emigration, the absorption problem centers on lands encompassed by pre-1967 Jordan. This fact coupled with Palestinian and external Arab opposition to his rule form the crux of Hussein’s problem.

B) No matter what happens at the peace conference and after, the future of King Hussein and of the Hashemite regime is uncertain. The establishment of a loose confederation as described in para 3 above, however, would probably provide least objectionable solution for Hashemite as well as U.S. interests.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 618, Country Files, Middle East, Jordan, X, November–December 1973. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to Beirut, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Cairo, and Jidda.
  2. On December 7, in a paper for Kissinger for inclusion in the President’s Saturday Briefing, Quandt and Saunders discussed Hussein’s dilemma in deciding whether or not to attend the peace conference, noting that he felt betrayed by Egypt and Syria because of the position they had taken at Algiers. They noted he would not decide on whether to send a delegation to Geneva until the Secretary’s visit and if he did, it might be composed entirely of Palestinians. Prime Minister Rifai had said publicly that Jordan should take part in the peace conference only as part of a unified Arab delegation in which each party would have agreed on the role of the others and that there would be no partial settlements. The Prime Minister also said that Jordan had no objection to the PLO’s participation in the conference, perhaps as part of the Jordanian delegation. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 1296, Harold H. Saunders Files, Jordan, 9/1/73–12/31/73)